Google will have to go back to the drawing board after the EU rejected its third attempted settlement to avoid competition sanctions.
The rejection follows a highly negative response to the suggested deal from complaints in the case, including Microsoft, who claim the search engine has abused its dominant position in the market to block competitors from its results and prevent advertisers from moving to other platforms.
A proposed deal reached in February was criticised by rivals for not going far enough who claimed the settlement would only entrench Google's dominance of Internet searches. At the time European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia brushed the criticism aside, but following renewed pressure from complainants he appears determined to squeeze more concessions from Google.
"In the replies to our letters the complainants have submitted new arguments and data , some of which should be taken in consideration. We are now in contact with Google to see if they are ready to offer solutions," commission spokesman Antoine Colombani told Reuters. He declined to say whether there was a deadline for Google to respond.
The four-year saga has seen Google improve its proposal three times so far, but with Almunia due to leave office at the end of October the company faces a race against time to reach an acceptable settlement before he leaves to avoid formal charges and fines of up to 10 per cent of its annual revenues of about $60bn (£37bn).
Google spokesman Al Verney said: "We continue to work with the European Commission to resolve the concerns they have raised."
Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, defended the company in a letter in the Financial Times on Saturday, denying uncompetitive practices and claiming that Google’s users were their priority not other websites.
“The allegations made by publishers have been extensively investigated by regulators in Europe and the US over more than seven years,” he wrote. “To date, no regulator has objected to Google giving people direct answers to their questions for the simple reason that it is better for users.”
A total of 18 companies have responded to Almunia's stated intention to accept the deal and in an interview with Bloomberg TV on September 6, he revealed that he was reviewing new information provided by complainants.
"We…are trying to understand the arguments of the complainants and trying to extract from Google solutions to these solid arguments," he said. "Some complainants have introduced new arguments, new data, new considerations."
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